A colleague made a comment during a work meeting many years ago that has stuck with me and impacted how I react to people. We were trying to figure out why someone behaved in an unpredictable manner. What was his motivation? Why did he surprise us with the action he took? Was he on our side or against us? As the unanswered questions piled up, my body temperature rose and my angst increased. I began to think of this person as "the enemy" and every thought I had was skewed to the negative.
Sitting next to me, my work colleague seemed relaxed and not bothered by the situation. I could not figure out why he was at ease. I let silence work its magic and waited for him to say something ... anything! Finally he spoke and his wisdom knocked me to the ground. He said: "we should assume positive intent".
"Positive intent"? I asked. "What does that mean?"
"If we don't know why he acted the way he did we should assume his intentions were good. His motivation pure. He was trying, in his way, to be supportive."
"Why do you believe positive intent is a good assumption?" I asked.
"In my experience, 9 times out of 10, people try to do the right thing. They might make a mistake, might misread or misunderstand the situation, but their rationale is often based on good not the bad."
"Positive intent." I said aloud and then softly inside my head a few times. "Okay," I said. "Let's not react and give this some time to see how it plays out."
My work colleague grinned, a little, and we moved on with our day.
Nearly a decade later I often find the assumption of "positive intent" is very useful in everyday situations and especially on social media. It's so easy to critique others, so easy to react to headlines rather than reading the full story, so easy to react to fiction rather than digging for facts. If only people would take a breath and assume the other person, in their own way, is motivated by good not evil, it might make things a tad better.
I like to read and write stories that dig deep into characters and how they respond to challenges.